How to Stay Organized When You Work From Home

February 9, 2021


Working from Home for most of us was completely unexpected. Just like the pandemic. One day, our employers told us to just start working from home. We were completely unprepared. Many of us didn’t have an extra room or space to designate for a workspace, especially one that was free of distractions! In some cases, our spouse or housemate was working from home too! Our kids were at home doing virtual school, and the dog barks all day! Didn’t we used to go to the office to get away from all of this?

We claimed the best space we could find at the time, plugged in our laptop and got to work. It was a strange feeling, wasn’t it? So many things seemed to be missing! In the office we had proper lighting, a supply closet, and an IT department for starters. Many of us didn’t have a chance to gather anything from our office so it felt like we were starting from scratch, and recreating everything. Suddenly we found ourselves working from home at our kitchen table, the sofa or bed, or in a closet we managed to convert to a makeshift office (it has shelves).

We’ve spent many months now working pandemic-style and some of us have converted these random spaces in our home into a workspace or an office, but is it organized? Is everything streamlined around us so we can work productively or are we looking at clutter in every corner? Dirty dishes, dirty laundry, and toys…

We don’t have as much paper and our file cabinet full of folders, or a copy room… and we feel lost without it! We don’t have our executive near us and co-workers around to borrow things from, ask spontaneous questions of, or to chat with. Not only are we missing our “things” but we’re isolated from “our people”. The reality is that in order to stay in control and stay productive in our new virtual office environment, we have to stay organized.

We have physical things to keep organized like our desktop, papers, and supplies and we have an increasingly large number of digital things to keep organized like our computer desktop, email, and documents. We also need to organize our time, meetings, and our executives and team—virtually! That’s a a lot of organizing!

No worries. We’ve. Got. This. We can get organized and stay organized by designating time to think about how to set up our work from home workspace and digital systems so we can work efficiently and stay on track. Once we get there, it’s a matter of maintaining and tweaking as we go to optimize our personal organization and productivity.

I’ve always been a person with a passion for organizing everything around me and I like to organize my work and office, and that of my executive’s, with the goal to streamline everything I possibly can to accomplish our mutual priorities efficiently. I wanted to work smarter, not harder, and I really wanted to work in a calm and positive environment that inspired energy, peace, and productivity. We can do this at home and, in fact, it may even be easier to do this at home versus the office because it’s our space.

To get organized, start with the items you need to have organized immediately to position yourself to work efficiently. De-clutter the surroundings where you work—no matter where it is. Clear your physical work surface or desktop. Make sure you can move about your workspace freely and sit down at a desk, table, sofa, or bed that is free of clutter. A clear space = a clear mind = greater productivity.

When you start working on your computer or laptop, you want to open up to an organized desktop and look at a minimal number of folders that contain documents for your current work only, meaning the work you plan to do today or this week. Everything else should be filed or archived out of sight.

Use your calendar as your to-do list. Block time for confirmed appointments, meetings, and events including holidays, out of office days, and times during the day when you are unavailable. Block buffer time between meetings. Block time for work. Include time on your calendar for breaks and lunch. Working from home allows for additional flexibility so use your breaks to take a walk, run an errand, or talk to someone live. When you step away from your desk, you’ll come back refreshed and your productivity will soar! Keep track of tasks and projects on your calendar and set reminders to manage your time and keep you moving forward to accomplish your priorities and projects. Most of all, leave white space on your calendar. Resist the urge to fill in every minute of every day. Seeing clear space is like a breath of fresh air!

A positive in our digital virtual world is less paper. No more seemingly endless printing jobs of multiple agendas, presentations, spreadsheets and other documents to distribute and file. It makes you wonder why we weren’t all digital pre-pandemic, doesn’t it? Sharing electronic files is so much easier (and better for our environment). Place documents in Dropbox, Google Drive or other cloud platform for easy access for your supervisor or teams, from anywhere. If you do have paper, place only pending items you need to access for action today / this week in an upright filing box or flat Inbox tray until you take care of them. A smaller, more virtual workspace helps keep the paper piles away!

The final point I’d like to touch on is email. The more time we spend on email, the lower our productivity is and the higher our stress levels are. Our Inbox is meant to be a temporary space for emails waiting to be processed. Keep only pending emails in your Inbox, using 50 emails maximum as a guideline (the number of emails that is displayed without scrolling). Emails you need to keep permanently should be moved to folders (10 or fewer). Process your emails daily with the mindset that everything gets discarded rather than kept. Reduce the emails you receive by unsubscribing to emails you don’t need and reduce the number of emails you send too. Block time on your calendar to review and respond to emails instead of constantly doing this. A single email interruption can require 26 minutes to pick up where you left off. Get organized and stay organized when you work from home by starting with these organizing basics. You may find that you enjoy working from home more than you did before!

Lisa Assetta, Founder & Owner, Office Assistance Plus

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